Movie review: 3 Backyards Paints a Picture of Suburban Angst

Another in a string of boring low-budget indie prods, 3 Backyards is one of those films that fritter away the talents of good actors anxious to keep busy in cinema, a business that is fading faster than journalism. In the course of one autumn day, it superficially examines the dull lives of three people who live in the same Long Island town. Between breakfast and suppertime, they leave their houses searching for something that might take them far afield of their mundane daily routines, but they all return disappointed, baffled and glad to get home.

In a fresh role very different from the freaks he’s played in such films as Crash, Apt Pupil and Shutter Island, Elias Koteas plays an unhappy businessman with marital problems who packs his bags, drives to the airport for a business trip and finds his flight canceled. He returns home, watches his wife and daughter through the window and learns things about his family he never knew before. Wandering through town, he keeps crossing paths with a sweet, rueful black girl badly in need of a job, who remains cheerful in spite of constant rejections, touching his heart in places he didn’t know he had. In the least interesting and most underwritten of the vignettes, a 9-year-old girl steals her mother’s jewelry, but on the way to school she is startled to come upon a mentally challenged man masturbating, who confiscates the jewelry. In the third story, Edie Falco gives another subtle, cantilevered performance as a bored housewife who gets a dose of unexpected excitement when a celebrity neighbor asks her to drive her to the ferry. To her surprise, she gets to know the human, ungrateful and rather pathetic side of a famous actress that leaves her shattered. In the end, the three characters share one thing in common–their lives don’t seem as bleak at the end of the day as they did at the beginning.

Like a boy kicking sand on the side of a road to pass time, writer-director Eric Mendelsohn takes a meandering look at suburban angst that is more of a sideways glance. Nothing ever happens, and although the stories in 3 Backyards intercut and overlap, they never connect, making it hard for them to sustain interest. The acting is flawless, especially by Edie Falco, who spends the whole movie behind a steering wheel, and the excellent Embeth Davidtz, as her passenger. But as good as they are, they never get beneath the surface of facial emotions. My mind kept wandering. Shot on a shoestring budget, with no setting more elaborate than a neighborhood coffee shop, the movie makes the rather mundane point that the grass is never greener than in your own backyard. But the film is so lethargic that I would have had more fun staying home, as Phyllis Diller says, “in bed with a good book–or a good friend who’s just read one.”

rreed@observer.com

3 Backyards

Running time 88 minutes

Written and directed by Eric Mendelsohn

Starring Elias Koteas, Edie Falco, Embeth Davidtz

2/4

Movie review: 3 Backyards Paints a Picture of Suburban Angst